True Democracy

A headline I just read from Jacobin: “True Democracy Is Incompatible With Capitalism.”

My random responses to this headline and accompanying article, as they occur to me on the fly (since flying past quickly is the only reasonable way to look at such blather):

How presumptuous to assume that one has discerned which sense of democracy is the true one — but never to openly define it. The special arrogance of the agenda-driven pseudo-intellectual, too narrow in historical and theoretical awareness even to realize how self-trivializing such a phrase as “true democracy” sounds, all the more so when imposed on the reader without so much as a useful citation, let alone a three-hundred page treatise, to justify the declaration. 

Let’s assume this headline speaks an absolute truth. What would it teach us? Certainly not what the author of such an article believes, or wishes the readers to believe. For if “true democracy” and “capitalism” are incompatible, this would still leave us — were we actually thinking rather than emoting — with the natural follow-up question: Which, then, is better for humans, democracy or capitalism? Why, in other words, does the author begin with the presupposition that democracy is the standard of political goodness, and therefore that anything incompatible with it must be evil?

By modifying the noun “democracy” with the adjective “true,” as noted above, the headline implies a carefully stipulated definition of democracy, in this case one that appears to be more or less interchangeable with the word “socialism.” Hence, the author’s claim amounts to the bold assertion that socialism is incompatible with capitalism. Hardly an original discovery.

It is interesting that the author is careful to stipulate that only true democracy is at issue here, while making no such good-faith stipulation regarding capitalism. That is, if any form of economy which allows for private business activity, leading to unequal wealth “distribution” and effectively placing a great deal of practical influence in the hands of a relatively small number of the economic elite, is to be classified as “capitalist,” then this allows no distinction among the various politico-economic views that might broadly define themselves as capitalistic. But if one is prepared to carve out one notion of the various claimants to democracy as the true one, then must not one also, in the name of intellectual consistency, make a similar clarification regarding that term to which one’s notion of “true democracy” is being directly contrasted?

Since democracy, in the sense defined by the theoretical progenitors of modern democratic thought, clearly implied a very strong defense of private property rights, the free exchange of goods and services, and notions of individual rights consistent with and supportive of such principles, one wonders how the author arrived at an essential truth about the nature of democracy which somehow negates these principles outright. (Of course, such wonder is purely rhetorical on my part, since we know the Marxist perspective, in all its manifestations, has, for a century, expertly co-opted the term “democracy” to be employed as needed to serve as a more palatable public substitute for the term “collectivist authoritarianism.”)

Since “capitalism” is essentially a Marxist alternative term for economic liberty, one intended to redefine as an artificially imposed and maintained “economic system” what was previously understood as merely part of the naturally occurring condition of human interaction once excessive government controls on private behavior are removed, might this headline, parsed in pre-Marxist grammar, be interpreted to mean that “true democracy” is incompatible with individual liberty? Which may indeed be true, by the way, which is precisely the concern that led the greatest statesmen of modern liberty to build republican, constitutionalist structures around their democratic institutions that would, they hoped, forcibly restrain the irrational, majority-rule excesses of pure democracy, which, they believed, would, if left unlimited, quickly devolve, by way of demagoguery and emotionalism, into one or another form of tyranny.

I note that the author of this article, one Grace Blakeley — of whom I had not heard until today — has her very own Wikipedia page, where she is described as “an English economics and politics commentator, columnist, journalist, and author.” Her commentary appears in various socialist fora, and she supports Britain’s Labour Party. She is, as of this writing, twenty-nine years old. Her website, which I found linked on her Wikipedia page, features on its welcome page nothing but a large glamour shot of Blakeley, posing for supreme prettiness — as one would expect of a revolutionary economist and debunker of private ownership of the means of production. She is clearly in it for the little guy.

Learning the author’s age, I was immediately struck with the thought that it is almost inconceivable, and constitutes something of a minor miracle, that anyone could graduate from a university education today not seeing the world as Ms. Blakeley does: hating liberty, disbelieving in the very concept of wealth production, lacking historical perspective, confusing cherry-picked half-truths with rational argument, imagining fairness and decency are to be achieved only through the coercive application of centralized authority, and of course assuming that the human condition is perfectible, requiring nothing more than the unimpeded and beneficent direction of a monolithic, vain, self-satisfied elite of experts and “commentators” from on high to take care of the incompetent and defenseless masses for their own good.

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